First time at Kandy Esala Perehera Festival

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Aurelie, our sales manager from France, saw the wonderful Kandy Esala Perehera festival. Here’s her account of the famous event:

Kandy Esala Perehera

The Kandy Esala Perehera is one of
the most beautiful cultural festivals
in the world!

Last week, I got to experience one of the most amazing cultural festivals in Asia—the Kandy Esala Perehera. I’ve never seen anything so ebullient, vivid and with so many elephants!

The Esala Perehera season is huge in Sri Lanka. This year the festival is being held from the 20th to the 30th of August. Many of my local friends insisted that I absolutely must see it. Basically, it’s held in the city of Kandy, the cultural center of the island, and is made up of dozens of processions that take over the streets. This also happens to be the busiest tourist season in Kandy. Both local and foreign tourists crowd the city streets so it’s difficult to see anything in the sea of bodies. The best solution is to reserve a ticket at a venue. Anto, my Mai Globe Travels colleague, got me a seat reservation so I had a spectacular view of the opening parade.

First, whip crackers made way with thundering sonic booms. It’s believed that this sound drives away evil spirits, along with anyone remaining on the street. Then I heard the rhythmic sounds of drums far away, and soon the street came alive with loud music and dazzling traditional dancers doing devotional twirls. They were soon followed by acrobats and fire eaters who were simply incredible to look at.

Traditional drummers lead the way.

Traditional drummers lead the way.

Incredible acrobats playing with fire.

Incredible acrobats playing with fire.

Dazzling dancers take over the streets.

Dazzling dancers take over the streets.

All this pageantry is in reverence to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha housed at the Dalada Maligawa temple in Kandy.

Dalada Maligawa temple

The procession pays homage to
the sacred tooth relic housed at
the Dalada Maligawa temple.

I’ve been holding back about the biggest attraction of the event—the elephants! Accompanying the numerous dancers and the acrobats were elephants decorated lavishly in illuminated costumes. Some of them were dancing to the music! One baby elephant moved his head side to side to the sound of the drums. It was so adorable!

Literally the biggest attraction of the festival: the elephants!

Literally the biggest attraction of
the festival: the elephants!

Majestic tusker carrying a replica of the tooth relic casket

The highlight of the procession is this majestic tusker
carrying a replica of the tooth relic casket.

After a while, a huge tusker appeared carrying a massive golden casket on its back representing the tooth relic. This tusker was decorated even more extravagantly than the other elephants. And it didn’t walk on the bare road. Two men walked ahead laying out a long white cloth for the tusker to walk on and he never stepped out of it! There were two other smaller elephants in shimmering outfits flanking the tusker like they were guarding him. All three walked so calmly, undisturbed by the riot of sounds and movements around them. It was really difficult to take my eyes off them.

I didn’t think the parade could offer anything more interesting than the holy tusker, but I was once again astonished by the dancers and the drummers from the Hindu temples who did painful-looking acrobats with fire and spikes on their backs.

The painful devotional dances of the Hindu processions

The painful devotional dances
of the Hindu processions.

Everything was so bright and striking it took a while for me to come back to reality after it was all over. The festival becomes even grander during the final night on the 30th and I can’t wait to be back in Kandy for that.

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